A ‘cutting-edge’ ventilator, backed by the family of Stephen Hawking, is due to be trialled in the fight against coronavirus.
The new model, named Exovent, is a reinvention of the ‘iron lung’, a Negative Pressure Ventilator which saved the lives of thousands of polio victims in the 20th century.
While traditional ventilators require patients to be sedated and sometimes paralysed, Exovent is non-invasive and can be used on a normal ward, reducing the strain on intensive care units.
The device also allows patients to remain conscious during treatment and it is not reliant on oxygen – which has become a precious resource for hospitals treating large numbers of coronavirus patients.
The collaborative task force behind the technology is made up of Cambridge-based engineers, Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group, the Warwick Manufacturing Group alongside the Royal National Throat Nose and Ear hospital and Imperial NHS Trust.
Representatives from the Exovent task force told the Telegraph that the technology is at the “detailed planning stage of development” , and that the task force is “currently in talks with NHS teams to expand the use of the technology on patients hospitalised with coronavirus.”
In the first instance, the device will be trialled at Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, in collaboration with teams from other centres.
According to Dr Malcolm Coulthard, a paediatrician at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary who is working with the taskforce, once trials are completed the technology could be swiftly rolled out across the UK.
He said: “Once the trials are undertaken, it is a quick and easy product for manufacturers to produce, it is a fairly robust product with few moving parts, it is something that can be quickly rolled out”
“The actual prototypes that will be used in patients are still being built at the moment by Marshall Aerospace and Defence. We are hoping that that product will be ready for us to test in patients with Covid-19 disease in about 2 weeks time.”
The team has estimated that 5,000 units could be produced each week.
Patrick Wood, Chief Technical Officer for Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group said: “This is one of a number of projects we are involved in following the government’s call to industry for support in the battle against Covid-19 and we are incredibly proud that our engineering talent is being put to such important use.”
The Exovent technology has also been backed by the family of Stephen Hawking. In a statement the family said: “As the family of a ventilated man, we know the life and death difference that access to this kind of medical technology makes.
“The Covid-19 epidemic has caused worldwide demand for ventilators to vastly outstrip supply.
“We are so proud to support the technological and manufacturing innovation involved in producing low cost, effective ventilators swiftly and in large numbers and hope the combined efforts of everyone who has answered this call will mean the NHS receives the equipment it needs to save lives at this terrible time.”
However, as the product remains in its testing stage, there are no immediate plans by the government to introduce the device within hospitals.
A government spokesman from the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are leading a coordinated effort to rapidly increase ventilator capacity and ensure these vital pieces of equipment are delivered to the frontline, and currently have 10,000 mechanical ventilators available to NHS patients.
“Safety of those who need this vital equipment is our absolute priority and new orders are all dependent on machines passing regulatory tests to ensure they meet the necessary safety and regulatory standards.”